This year we got our very first look at Samsung's Android Wear smartwatch, the Gear Live. We knew that the watch was coming at some point but no one seemed to have expected it this soon, and it was quite a surprise to see it unveiled it at Google I/O this past week. Ever since we were able to pick up our watches at the conference I have been wearing it daily and non-stop, short of when I have been sleeping and it was on the charger. In this review we'll break down just about everything we can with it and hopefully help you decide if the Gear Live is the right smartwatch for you, that is, if you were waiting on one that ran on Android Wear. There are obviously other options like the LG G Watch and the upcoming Moto 360, and we'll have reviews for those in time as well once we get our hands them. So, let's get into it.
The Samsung Gear Live actually has a pretty decent feel to it. The makeup feels more solid to me than that of the LG G Watch, and just from what I had heard at the conference from those who chose the LG G Watch over the Gear Live as their gift, it seems to potentially run better, although I can't speak to personal experience on this because I haven't used the LG G Watch myself although I did get to play with it for a minute or two. The Gear Live has no home button like the other Gear watches coming out of Samsung, but it does have a power button on the side that can be used for dimming the display as well as powering it down. It has connector pins on the bottom for charging the watch after you place it on the dock and plug it in using the included microUSB charger, and just below the charging pins is the heart rate sensor. The band feels like it's made from a silicone or polyurethane material, while the actual clasp to fit the watch to your wrist is made of metal. The Gear Live sports a small but very capable 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display and is powered by a 1.2GHz CPU, and also has embedded Gyro and Accelerometer sensors, as well as a Compass and the microphone for speaking commands.
The Gear Live as we all know runs Android Wear, which is a mostly Google Now type interface. As Google has stated many times prior, Android Wear is about the ability to complete tasks with quick glances, and mostly hands free. The microphone allows for the "OK Google" command to be used for things like taking notes, discovering your heart rate, replying to hangouts messages or sending texts, setting reminders etc. The interface feels very fluid and smooth, aside from a couple times where there was a slight lag. For the most part though, using all of the Gear Lives features was fast and worked very well. Android Wear feels polished and works exactly as intended.
I chose to label this section as features seeing as how Android Wear doesn't really have full on apps, and they're more features of the OS itself that can be interacted with. Starting with the heart rate monitor, it works quickly so long as the phone that the watch is connected to has a good data connection. It seems to be accurate, and quite frankly it's cool to have on an accessory like this one. The step counter is great(which is part of the Google Fit feature on the Gear Live)and it's nice to be able to see your daily step amounts, and can help you set fitness goals for getting in a little bit of cardio on a day to day basis. You can even set and change your daily step goals on the fly and track past days. Navigation seemed to work well when we were walking around San Francisco looking for various shops and places to eat. The voice recognition from Google Now works flawlessly, and every Hangouts reply or text message that I sent had no mistakes. Even when sending messages while driving yesterday with the windows down and the music up in the background, the mic caught everything I said with ease. Basically, all of the features which includes what I've already listed as well as setting alarms, emailing, starting the stopwatch, setting a timer, looking at your agenda all work very well thanks to Google Now.
Heart Rate Sensor
The Heart Rate Sensor works pretty well and you get results quickly after asking Google to provide it for you. If you prefer you can also check your heart rate by interacting with the touch display if you have your hands free. There isn't much else to it than that, it works and works pretty well, although the watch will recommend that you tighten the band if it is too loose which did happen to me once, so I suspect that the sensor wasn't pressed directly up against my wrist.
If you decide to pick up the Gear Live over the LG G Watch or the Moto 360, you definitely won't be disappointed by the battery life. For me personally over the past few days of use, I have been charging it over night but that wasn't needed at all. Even Thursday when I picked it up in the morning and starting using it immediately and as much as I could, it still had about 55-65% battery by the time we got home from San Francisco at like 1 a.m. Case in point, you can be using the Gear Live all day and not have to worry about whether the battery would die on you, and you should even have no trouble using it through most of if not all of a second day, so long as you charge it that evening. Battery life will certainly vary from user to user, but you can easily make sure it lasts longer by dimming the screen when you're done using it which can be done by simply covering up the display with the palm of your hand for example. You can also turn off the "always on display" feature, which makes it so that you have to press the power button to wake the screen instead of waking based off proximity.
If you're looking for a really great smartwatch that gives you the ability to do the things that you'll want to do quickly without touching your phone, like sending messages, viewing your notifications, settings reminders etc., then you can't go wrong with the Gear Live. Android Wear really works well and the Gear Live is comfortable, easy to interact with and has great battery life. At $199 it's also $30 cheaper than the G Watch, and it has an IP67 rating that makes it water and dust resistant so you can wear it in pretty much all conditions,(the G Watch has this too of course)which is great for people like me who live in Oregon where weather can change just as quickly as the clothes on our backs. The Play Store lists that you can keep it on while you take a shower although I haven't tried it, but I have had it on multiple times while washing my hands and it's just fine. All in all, the Gear Live is an amazing little smartwatch and a great display of Android Wear's functionality. Pre-Orders for the Gear Live can be placed now, with units listed as shipping as soon as July 8th.